Archived entries for Mississippi Valley Conservancy

20 Year Habitat Investment Protected Forever

The following press release was written by our land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

MONROE COUNTY, WIS – George and Carmeen Johnston of Norwalk have protected 20 years of work on their land in the headwaters of the Kickapoo River where they have restored native tallgrass prairie and removed invasive species.

By signing a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy on the 54-acre property near Norwalk they have stated their wish that the prairies and oak woodlands on the property be protected from development, according to Megan Kabele, MVC conservation specialist who worked with the Johnstons on protecting their land. The development restrictions become part of the title to the land, which must be honored by future owners of the land. MVC will monitor the property once a year for compliance, according to the agreement.

George Johnston, a retired stream biologist and a longtime member of the Conservancy, said: “At some point Im going to be gone. I dont want whoever buys this place to be able to do whatever with it. Weve spent a lot of time caring for this place. I want to continue to have control over what happens with this land after Im not around anymore.”

He added that when he and Carmeen learned their land was in the Kickapoo River watershed they thought protecting the land would make a difference for water quality in the river. “It would be nice if more people would put conservation easements on their land.”

“Prescribed burning continues to be used to control invasive species and encourage native plants. As a result, the Johnston property features an incredible mix of habitat types that testify to their hard work and are a source of inspiration for landowners seeking prairie and woodland restoration,” Kabele said. The Johnston’s have not only protected their investment in habitat restoration, they are protecting rural open space values and are providing permanent vegetation for cleaner waters.

Carmeen Johnston said, “We are glad that our little bit of heaven can stay our little bit of heaven. We wouldn’t have known what to do, if it werent for Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Asked to tell a favorite story about the land, George said that several years after they bought the property, he was out walking on the back side of the property. “All the western sunflowers were in bloom. I started looking around…the more I looked, the more species I found. We didnt know that back area was a prairie remnant. It was just really exciting to find a prairie remnant. I spent my career in fisheries, but I love plants. Ive always been more interested in botany than anything else. Ive spent my whole life outside. If I see something new, I have to identify it.”

Kabele said George’s work restoring the prairie has resulted in more native plants returning. “These improved habitats form natural communities that include wildflowers, grasses, and sedges — critical resources for declining pollinators.”

Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director, said, “Through their conservation easement George and Carmeen have provided an enduring legacy to future generations while achieving peace of mind, knowing that their land will be taken care of far into the future.”

Effigy Mounds, Great River Road Bluffs, Rare Lizard Habitat Protected

Effigy Mounds

View from Tweeds Bluff

CRAWFORD COUNTY, WIS – Land ownership that dates to the Civil War, Native American effigy mounds, scenic bluffs on the Great River Road, and habitat for a rare lizard. These are some of the features of the latest land protection effort by Mississippi Valley Conservancy and Tweed family members who have permanently protected their land south of Ferryville.

According to the landowners, while the 29-acre property has been in the family since the Civil War, it used to be a much larger farm, over 800 acres in size. But some was sold during the Great Depression. The seven Tweed siblings, the children of John and Gertrude Tweed, all grew up there. A cabin built sometime in the late 1930s remains along with a history of working farmland, beekeeping for honey, and many memories.

Abbie Church, MVC conservation director, said that the project started with MVC in 2010 with a meeting outside of the cabin. All seven siblings — Jane Johnson and Marie Tweed, both of La Crosse, Nancy Dale of Stoddard, and those who have since passed away, Joyce Morrison, Robert Tweed, June Lindevig and Gladys Tweed — were interested in seeing the land protected.

Bluffs

View of Tweeds Bluff

Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director, said “Under this conservation agreement, the Conservancy accepts the responsibility of ensuring that the landowner’s wishes are honored now and forever. Those wishes include preserving the land and preventing future subdivision, development and mining, all while the land remains in private ownership.”

In view of traffic on both Highway 35 and 171, the property is within a designated “Important Bird Area” and one of North America’s primary migratory bird flyways. The Great River Road, Highway 35, was voted the “prettiest drive in the US” and is Wisconsin’s only designated National Scenic Byway. The wildlife habitat on the Tweed’s land includes dry prairie, oak savanna, rock cliffs and oak woodlands. Scenic views of their bluffland will be preserved in perpetuity and enjoyed by travelers on both the highway and the Mississippi River.

Jane Johnson said when the agreement was completed recently, “I am very enthused about conserving the land. It is a beautiful piece of property.”

Lizard

Five-lined skink

Two Native American effigy mounds overlook the Mississippi River on the land and are associated with the Late Woodland culture (AD 400-1100), according to archaeologists.

The rare lizard found there is the five-lined skink. Church said the skink is brightly colored, black with yellow stripes and a bright blue tail. “They live in oak barrens and prairie areas adjacent to oak woodlands. On the Tweed property they are up in the southwest-facing remnant prairie.” She said it was the first site the Conservancy has protected with a skink population.

Scenic farm and bluffland property protected forever.

We received some wonderful news last week from our member land trust Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC). If you have a connection to the Mississippi River Valley, or simply care about protecting special places in Wisconsin, you’ll want to read MVC’s press release below:

Mississippi River Valley Property Conserved

A drive the through the Mississippi River Valley now features brilliant fall colors, and a short distance east of Ferryville, Mississippi Valley Conservancy has ensured 189-acres of scenic bluffland will remain intact for future generations. The Conservancy completed a conservation agreement with Ken and Deneen Kickbusch on Thursday, October 20th to permanently protect their 189-acre farm and bluffland.  The voluntary conservation agreement protects the scenic beauty and wildlife habitat by limiting future subdivision, development, mining, and other unsustainable activities that are inconsistent with the landowner’s wishes. The land remains in private ownership and is not open to the public.

“The animals and the birds don’t always have contiguous habitat, and our land can make a difference for the wildlife,” said Deneen, “we have so many great memories here.” Their memories include hunting trips with sons and grandsons, camping within view of the Mississippi River, working in the prairie, serenades by whippoorwills, and startling wood ducks out of the ponds.  Carol Abrahamzon, Executive Director for the Conservancy stated, “Ken and Deneen have been so thoughtful about the use of their land and the future of that land. We are honored to be a part of realizing their dream to protect the wildlife and its habitat.”

 

kickbusch-ac-007

The Kickbusch 189 acre property is comprised of farmland, bluffland and prairie communities. Its protection ensures wildlife and native plants will have suitable habitat, forever.  

Photo by: Mississippi Valley Conservancy

The Kickbusch’s bought the land in 1976, attracted to the rural character, the lack of buildings, and the wildlife. The land is a mix of agricultural land and wooded bluffs, with the steep rugged topography characteristic of the Driftless Area. Ken and Deneen recognized the importance of land preservation, watching changes to the landscape as commodity prices rise, stating, “a conservation easement would provide the kind of protection that this highly erodible land deserves”. Nationwide an acre of farmland is lost every minute from conversion to other land uses. Over the years, terraces and water retention ponds were added to the Kickbusch property to address soil erosion and runoff. “When we bought the property, we restored the ponds,” said Ken, “which were as full this year as they have ever been, and always used by the wood ducks. Once, I counted sixteen wood ducks flying out of the pond.”

The land also includes several “goat” prairies, labeled as such because the early settlers thought they were so steep, only a goat could climb them. The prairies include the same wildflowers and grasses that were present here 200 years ago. The agreement with the Conservancy ensures that habitat remains intact for wildlife, and future owners honor the conservation practices within the farmland. “There is just too much abuse of the land, devastating local communities, rivers, wildlife,” said Ken “we felt this was something solid, something real we could do for the future”.

great-plains-ladies-tresses

Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchid, found on the Kickbusch property. The orchid was recently added to the DNR’s list of species of “Special Concern”. The native wildflowers & grasses found today have been present on the Kickbusch land for over 200 years. 

Photo by: Mississippi Valley Conservancy

“The Kickbusch’s land provides a great example of how little is known about the habitat right here in our backyard,” remarked Abbie Church, Conservation Director for the Conservancy, “as we walked through the prairie, we found a small stalk of snow-white blooms, and a Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchid. We walked on to find five other stalks. This orchid was recently added to the Wisconsin DNR’s list of species of “Special Concern” and the University of Wisconsin herbarium has no previous records of this orchid being found in Crawford County. One week later we found yet another species of rare orchid, this time in the woods, another new record for Crawford County.” The prairie today is in great shape due to Ken and Deneen’s efforts. “Fifteen years ago Ken went out and cut the red cedars in the prairie,” according to Deneen, “It looks much better today than ever before; the prairie is so beautiful”.

 

The Call of the Whip-poor-will

The forest is quiet – the floor is littered with last season’s fallen leaves.

You can barely hear the ripple of the creek where the clean, clear water flows across the rocks.

Shhh, listen.  Can you hear it?

Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will.

The call of the Whip-poor-will.

Look.  Over there on the side of road the bulldozers quietly, patiently, sit in wait.

whip (1)

The whip-poor-will.

Thump, thump.  There’s a knock on the farm house door. Vicky isn’t expecting anyone.  She wipes her hands and pulls the curtain back.  Vicky doesn’t recognize the man in the suit with the clipboard of papers under his arm.

She opens the door. “Can I help you?”

“Good afternoon.” John explains that he is from Hi Crush, the sand mining company. “Your farm has the prime sand we are looking for and we’re willing to pay you handsomely for it.  The papers are all ready, just sign here.”

Vicky’s face becomes ashen.  “This farm has been in my family for well over 30 years. My son has spent years restoring that prairie you call a sand mine.”

“This farm is not for sale!” Vicky closes the door.

temp Looking-Toward-the-Baraboo-Hills

Photo credit: Prairie Hill Farm

Vicky spends the evening worrying about the future of her family farm.  Tossing and turning, she barely sleeps that night. While she lays awake she can hear it.

Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will.

When she wakes up in the morning Vicky remembers an article she read in her local paper about protecting land. She digs through the papers on her desk until she finds the one she is looking for.  Vicky re-reads the article.

Then she picks up her phone and calls Mississippi Valley Conservancy!

Vicky talks about her farm with Abbie. She talks about the years her kids spent growing up on it. She remembers how they loved to go down to the creek with their city cousins and splash in the water.  She remembers how they would come back to the house muddy and exhausted, but with grins from ear to ear.

And Vicky talks about the wildlife and plants that still call her farm home.

Photo credit: Susan Penning

Photo credit: Susan Penning

Over the next few months, Vicky works with the team at Mississippi Valley Conservancy.  She tells us how important protecting her farm forever is to her, her kids, and her grandkids.  She talks about the clean, clear water that runs through the creek below. And she talks about the Whip-poor-will, and the other animals that live on her farm.

Today, Vicky is at peace knowing her family farm is protected from development forever through a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Because of this agreement, Vicky’s grandkids and great grandkids will splash through the stream and come back to the house wet, muddy and happily, exhausted.

Because of this agreement, Vicky and her family will continue to hear the call of the Whip-poor-will as it drifts through the valleys and across the forest floor – for generations to come.

Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will.

Story by: Carol Abrahamzon, Executive Director, Mississippi Valley Conservancy

Sugar Creek Bluff State Natural Area Grows

A 144-acre bluffland on the Great River Road, Wisconsin’s only national scenic byway, was slated for residential development. When the community found out, many banded together under the leadership of the local land trust, Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC), to make sure that didn’t happen.

Jay Olson-Goude

MVC tapped into an invaluable resource—the state’s Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program. Funding through the Stewardship Program provided over 80% of the money needed to purchase this special place from the folks who owned it. A number of community institutions came through to cover the $86,436 balance. Clearly, protecting this land was important to the community and instead of being developed, the land became an extension of the Sugar Creek Bluff State Natural Area.

And for good reason! They now have 420-acres available to them for hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and other family recreation.  Additionally, as Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director pointed out, this “will benefit the students of De Soto Junior High and High School, who have adopted Sugar Creek Bluff, doing restoration workdays as well as environmental education activities.”

SCB Apr 2010 021

“if today was my last day on earth, I’d like to spend part of it on Sugar Creek Bluff.” (Laura Patten) Photo courtesy of Mississippi Valley Conservancy

Andy and Laura Patten, who own property next to the state natural area were asked how they would describe it to someone who hadn’t been there before. Andy said it “combines all the natural beauty of the Driftless in a setting that makes it easy for anyone to access. The goat prairie, a spring-fed trout stream, the full range of the oak savanna and woodland ecosystem, grasslands and an abundance of rare and native plant and animal species all exist there to be appreciated and enjoyed.”  Laura said, “if today was my last day on earth, I’d like to spend part of it on Sugar Creek Bluff.”  She added, “Seeing the bluff out my window when I’m at work reminds me that when people work together, we can make good decisions that will reward the land and others for generations to come.”

Cerulean Warbler

A variety of wildlife will always be able to count on this place, including the rare cerulean warbler. © Mark S. Szantyr

Joanne White, member of the Ferryville Tourism Council, said that the Bluffland is part of Ferryville’s identity as the smallest of the 93 cities in the Bird City Wisconsin program.  “We’re thrilled to have it protected,” she said. The community co-sponsors public hikes on the property with MVC. She said the rare cerulean warbler has been seen on each of the hikes she has attended.

Linked to the Land

We love to see land trusts across the state developing new and exciting partnerships to meet the needs of the communities they serve. One recent example is Mississippi Valley Conservancy’s (MVC) partnership with the Mayo Clinic Health System. Mayo is sponsoring “Linked to the Land,” a series of hikes given by MVC, designed to get people outside.

“This series offers a wide variety of outdoor events that provide an opportunity to experience the wonder and excitement of our region’s natural resources on the lands that have been permanently protected by MVC and its partners,” says Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director.

“The Linked to the Land hikes are an excellent way to add physical activity and fun to your lifestyle, as well as to learn about the wonders of the Driftless Area,” says Jonathan Rigden, M.D. “Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, supports our community’s efforts to promote healthy living. Plenty of physical activity, good eating habits, and stress reduction are the key.”

TMcCormick_Boch Fnd @ Narrows_4687

With healthcare costs rising, it’s wonderful to see land trusts and healthcare organizations partnering to promote healthy lifestyles. Photo by Terrence McCormick

If you are interested in checking out this exciting new series, here are the remaining 2014 dates:

Apr. 27 – Earth Fair Hike – Miller Bluff, La Crosse Bluffland

May 10 – Mother’s Day Bird Identification Hike – Sugar Creek Bluff, Crawford County, 8-10 a.m.

May 17 – Birds & Brunch at Boscobel Bluffs

Jun. 15 – Father’s Day Hike – Seldom Seen Farm, Gays Mills

Jul. 26 – River Bluff Day’s Hike – Sugar Creek Bluff, Ferryville

Aug. 16 – Prairie Flower Hike – Holland Sand Prairie, Town of Holland

Sept. 13 – FSPA Stargazing Hike, St. Joseph Ridge Garden Tour 5:30 p.m. Hike 6:30 p.m. Stargazing 8 p.m.

Oct. 11 – Family Fall Hike – MacGregor property, Grant County

Nov. 8 – Tree Identification Hike – Angel Bluff, Buffalo County

Dec. 30 – Holiday Break Hike – Mathy Quarry at 2 p.m.

For more information, visit MVC’s website.

It Starts With YOU: Our Thanks to George Varnum

As we enter the season of giving we’re touched by the many ways that individuals have cared for the land. Indeed, we’re grateful that so many participate in this work with us — Land conservation starts with YOU.

As is the case with the recently celebrated George Varnum, a landowner who has worked to protect his land for decades, it starts from the ground-level.  Back in the 1990s, Varnum began the process of documenting all the unique plant species on the 61-acre property near his home. He started to reach out to the community in 1997 about this special piece of prairie and this led to efforts by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy to preserve the property.

Thanks to George Varnum for playing a key role in protecting such a special place in his community. Photo by Dave Skoloda.

Thanks to George Varnum for playing a key role in protecting this special place in his community. Photo by Dave Skoloda.

Today the town of Holland owns the property and Mississippi Valley Conservancy holds a conservation easement on it, meaning it will stay as it stands today for future generations. Now and forever, the prairie is open for the public to enjoy.

Holland Sand Prairie

Holland Sand Prairie

Varnum recently received a plaque for his role in prairie preservation. The plaque says Varnum, “helped care for the property. Mississippi Valley Conservancy and the Friends of the Holland Sand Prairie share in thanking George for the important role he played on behalf of the prairie and its hundreds of species and the people who now enjoy them in any season, forever preserved.”

We’re grateful for community leaders like George Varnum who take notice of critical habitats for wildlife and plants, develop partnerships, and assist in preserving these places for future generations to enjoy.

Dairy Industry Family Protects Land Along the Kickapoo

The Babson family, who played a key role in modernizing dairy farming, recently gifted an additional tract of land along the Kickapoo River to Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC). With this additional 983 acres, almost 2,278 contiguous acres along the Kickapoo have been protected by MVC  (a majority of the remaining 1,295 acres were also donated by the Babson family).

Jean Babson’s family owned the Chicago-based Surge milking machine business for many years. Jean and her late husband James (former president of the Babson Brothers Company) bought farms in this area along the Kickapoo 35 years ago and consolidated them to create a place for upwards of 1,000 beef cattle to graze on.

Jean has many fond memories of her family and friends gathering at a cabin they built above the Kickapoo River. The family will still maintain ownership of the cabin and the conservation easement property.

According to Jean: “James Babson had vision, had a love of the land. The whole place meant a lot to (him)…not just the cattle, but being here. It’s such a beloved part of the country that meant so much to me and (my husband), and it’s nice to know it’s going to be in good hands.”

Babson Aerials 9-29-09 032 Tunnelville Rd-40perc

Ariel view of Babson property.

Out of the 2,278 total acres protected by MVC, 1,271 acres are open for public access, including hiking, hunting, bird watching, fishing, trapping, canoeing and cross-country skiing.

Protecting the Babson property, “is an astonishing and welcome gift that gives further protection to important ecological features and wildlife on this spectacular part of the Wisconsin landscape,” said Tim Jacobson, executive director of MVC.

Family and fireflies: preserving land in La Crosse County

The donation of a recent conservation agreement between Sue Strehl and Mississippi Valley Conservancy comes from a longing to protect the land that made Sue who she is today.

Sue and her dog at the farm.

Sue and her dog at the farm.

On a 100-acre farm plot in the Town of Shelby, fond memories of family and fireflies were formed for Sue Strehl. This farm has been in Sue’s family for 99 years and was established in 1914 when Sue’s grandparents, the Neidercorns, purchased the first 60 acres. The farm was used for a dairy operation, growing potatoes, and for a short time, growing tobacco.

Sue has many fond memories of the land; in an interview she recalled one night where she took off exploring, “I had hiked to the back 40 one evening [and] I was standing there as it got dark, just enjoying the sounds of nature. As the last traces of the sun’s glow disappeared from the sky, the valley in front of me filled with more fireflies than I had ever seen. I was awestruck.”

Because the land has been with her family for nearly a century Sue says she wants to protect it so that the “future owners of the land… get the same joy from the property as my family has experienced.”

The rolling hills of the Strehl Farm.

The rolling hills of the Strehl Farm.

Mississippi Valley Conservancy is overjoyed that they will be able to help Sue and her family protect this beautiful land from development and mining while still allowing the property to stay under the private ownership of Sue’s Family.

Reflecting on the conservation agreement, Tim Jacobson, the Conservancy’s executive director, said “Caring for the farm in this lasting way is the true embodiment of the ‘land ethic’ that Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about.”

Kettle Moraine Land Trust Earns National Accreditation

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission announced last week that 23 new land trusts around the nation have earned the accreditation seal, with one Wisconsin land trust among them.

Kettle Moraine Land Trust (KMLT) has become just the fifth Wisconsin land trust to earn this coveted recognition!  A Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program participant, KMLT joins Bayfield Regional Conservancy, Caledonia Conservancy, Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, and Mississippi Valley Conservancy.  The Nature Conservancy, which works internationally and has a very active Wisconsin Chapter, was also awarded accreditation last week.

President Jerry Petersen with KMLT’s Accreditation Files

Why is this a big deal?  The accreditation seal is truly a mark of distinction for land trusts because it recognizes that they have met strict national standards for excellence, upholding the public trust and ensuring that conservation efforts are permanent.

Sue Heffron, a board member for the KMLT, expresses how important achieving accreditation is: “We learned that the steps to protecting and preserving land are not trivial, and must be done correctly. By achieving the seal of excellence through national land trust accreditation, we embrace the serious work of permanently preserving important lands in our community.” Operating with nonprofit excellence is increasingly important as Kettle Moraine Land Trust increases its pace of conservation work in Walworth County.

Congratulations on this supreme achievement!

 



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